NATPE 2013: Glen Mazzara Reveals Why He Left 'Walking Dead'

UP: Glen Mazzara

"The Walking Dead" showrunner's third season premieres to 10.9 million viewers and a 5.8 rating in the 18-to-49 demo, bigger than any entertainment series this fall on broadcast or cable.

The former showrunner exited the AMC drama after two high-rated seasons.

MIAMI BEACH, Fla. -- Former Walking Dead showrunner Glen Mazzara says that even though he was at the helm of the show when it became one of the top-rated dramas on television -- beating even broadcast network offerings -- he never was in complete control. So his seemingly sudden departure after the AMC zombie drama's high-rated third season was in line with the role he saw for himself on the show.

“I was sort of the hired gun coming in to support the creator of the show, and through odd circumstances I ended up becoming showrunner,” Mazzara said Tuesday at NATPE.

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Mazzara, who was on a panel with Damon Lindelof (Lost), said he first came to Walking Dead when Frank Darabont was the showrunner. When Darabont left after one season, Mazarra said he was as surprised as anyone that he was tapped to replace him.

“You had to sort of grab the wheel as if we were going through a storm,” said Mazzara, “and I’m happy to say I was able to contribute and we got through the storm. But when I think people involved with the show are looking at the long-term plan, they want something different -- and what those differences are, you would have to ask AMC.”

Without mentioning Robert Kirkman, creator of the comic book on which Walking Dead is based and who reportedly disagreed with Mazzara’s approach -- Mazzara made it clear that he didn’t have the ultimate authority it appeared he'd had, and that was a factor in his departure despite the high ratings.

“When you’re the creator, you can say, 'This is what the show is,' ” Mazzara added. “I didn’t create the show. I didn’t create the comic book, so I’m just glad I was able to contribute.”

Lindelof then followed up by discussing the challenges he faced when he was executive producer on the ABC hit Lost, which left the air in 2010 after six seasons.

“I can’t speak for Glen, and I cant say what the climate is on that show or at AMC -- there are different cultures at every network -- but I do think that there is a bit of a misconception that if a show is doing very, very well, there is a laissez-faire attitude: ‘Well, they must be doing well, they must be doing something right. We’re going to leave them alone,' " Lindelof said. "In fact, on Lost the opposite was true. After we did the pilot, I think everybody was saying: ‘Oh my God, how are you going to sustain this? OK, the plane crashed. Now they’re on the island, but what was episode 17?’ I didn’t know what episode four was. This wasn’t our idea. We sort of inherited it, and were doing our best to just sort of figure out what a story looks like.

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“There was a period during the first six episodes or so when we were sort of left alone," he added. "Nobody really knew how to note the show. Then the show premiered, and it got very big ratings. Then there were suddenly seven executives I never met before saying like: ‘Oh my God, don’t f--- it up. This feels a little too weird. Can you pull this back?’ The idea of looking at it in terms of ‘It's doing well, so just go do you’re thing' doesn’t exist. The reality is … we’re on the creative side of it, but it’s a business.”

Said Mazzara: “On Walking Dead, because I was coming into a culture with all the different writers and producers and now I was stepping up, I really wanted to build that team. I wanted everybody invested in what we were doing. I didn’t think it would be right to say, ‘OK, there’s a new sheriff in town.’ That wasn’t my attitude, and I felt like the show would have definitely failed if that was the case.”

Mazzara said he got notes from the network, 15 producers and even the actors about scripts. “There’s no way you can take every note,” he said. “There’s no way you can make everybody happy. So I'd just sort of go through and do a rewrite on the entire script trying to include all of those different voices, all of those different perspectives.

“At the end of the day, though, you’re never going to get consensus,” he lamented. "So that’s where I have to say, 'I feel this is the best possible script.' … At the end of the day, somebody has to make the call. Otherwise, it’s just chaos."